So What Are You Reading?

Reviews of Books.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Heaven's Bride

Heaven's Bride: The Unprintable Life of Ida C. Craddock, American Mystic, Scholar, Sexologist, Martyr, and Madwoman by Leigh Eric Schmidt

Ida Craddock was sentenced to 5 years in federal prison 110 years ago in 1902 for violation of the Comstock Act of 1873 that made it illegal to send any "obscene, lewd, and/or lascivious" materials through the mail. Craddock was a sexologist who wrote and distributed through the mails several pamphlets on how married couples could achieve mutual satisfaction in their sexual relations. Rather than serve her prison sentence, she committed suicide. Outrage over her death marked the beginning of a Free Speech Movement that eventually overturned the Comstock Act.
But Ida Craddock was so much more, and Leigh Schmidt does an admirable job of writing a biography from the supressed documents by and about her. She was a brilliant woman who passed the entrance exams for the University of Pennsylvania"very satisfactorily," but was denied admission by the board of trustees because of her sex. She then became the secretary of the American Secular Union, one of the most important liberal organizations of the 19th century. She stood alone as the only woman researcher in the 19th century investigation of the phallic roots of Christianity. Craddock formed her own Church of Yoga to preach her mix of American Spiritualism, Quaker mysticism, Unitarian free thought, and Tantric Yoga. As a practicing sexologist Craddock suggested that the gyrations of the belly dance, along with male orgasmic restraint, could result in female gratification in the marital bed.
Craddock was hounded during her life by a mother who wanted to commit her to an asylum and Anthony Comstock who wanted to send her to jail. After her death her papers, which she tried to save from destruction by her mother, fell into the hands of Theodore Schroeder, an amateur psychologist. When her personal files were opened, her "marriage" to Soph, the spirit of a dead suitor from her youth, is revealed. As an American Spiritualist, her relationship with Soph was a natural outcome of her research into the spirit world. Schroeder, a lawyer turned psychologist, obtained her personal papers after her death and used her writings on "Heavenly Bridegrooms" to prove Craddock was a "sexual and religious maniac." He tried to show that her repressed sexuality expressed itself by taking on a spirit lover.
Craddock was a bold and gifted woman. Her efforts at reform in Turn of the Century America as revealed in this biography shine a light on the pressures women faced in the last decades before they obtained the right to vote. The terrible price she paid and her quiet resolve to pay it make her what the famous anarchist Emma Goldman called "one of the bravest champions of women's emancipation."
Leigh Schmidt is the Edward Mallinckrodt Distinguished University Professor in the Department of Religious Studies at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. He got his BA from University of California, Riverside and his MA and PhD from Princeton University. His other books include: Practicing Protestants: Histories of the Christian Life in America, Restless Souls: The Making of American Spirituality, The Religious History of America, Hearing Things: Religion, Illusion, and the American Enlightenment, Holy Fairs: Scottish Communions and American Revivals in the Early Modern Period, and, Consumer Rites: The Buying and Selling of American Holidays.


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